Now is an interesting time for PC gaming. With the release of NVIDIA's 7800 series as well as the upcoming ATI x1000 series graphics cards, the potential for graphics in games is only just starting to be realized. Games like F.E.A.R, Call of Duty 2, and Age of Empires 3 promise to take PC gaming to a new level graphically, and frankly, we couldn't be happier about it. We seem to have a similar situation right now of when ATI's RADEON 9700 series launched, and the new hardware allowed game developers the freedom to experiment with new ideas; therefore, creating a new generation of games. One particular graphics engine that has had an important impact for developers lately is Half life 2's Source engine, and though it has been around for a while now, the developers have recently decided to give the engine a bit of a face-lift, metaphorically speaking.

That's right, Valve has updated their source engine to enable something called High Dynamic Range, and the first two applications to implement this are Day of Defeat (a popular Half life 2 mod) and the upcoming new level for Half life 2: the Lost Coast. High dynamic range is basically a more realistic way to implement lighting in a three-dimensional world. With HDR, light sources will appear brighter, and other effects like blooming are possible. HDR, along with other things like auto-exposure, take lighting to a new level, further enhancing the realism of a virtual world. To give you a better idea of the concept behind HDR, here is a quote from Paul Debevec:
"The 'dynamic range' of a scene is the contrast ratio between its brightest and darkest parts. A plate of evenly-lit mashed potatoes outside on a cloudy day is low-dynamic range. The interior of an ornate cathedral with light streaming in through its stained-glass windows is high dynamic range. In fact, any scene in which the light sources can be seen directly is high dynamic range."
Obviously, one of the first things that we were concerned about regarding this upgrade was how this would affect performance. We weren't sure quite what to expect, but we did some testing on multiple ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards, and we'll take a look at the results later on. First, let's go a bit more in-depth into the technology.

Valve’s HDR Source Implementation
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  • route66 - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    There's something wrong with me because I liked Doom3
  • Griswold - Saturday, October 1, 2005 - link

    Nope theres nothing wrong with you. Doom3 was just as fun as HL2 to me - but in a different way. Matter of fact, D3 was the first game since the original Doom that actually had some scary moments for me. THAT is fun.

    I pity those who cant appreciate that, probably because they did not play Doom way back in the day when it was the non-plus-ultra.
  • bob661 - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link


    There's something wrong with me because I liked Doom3
    You are not alone. :)
  • karioskasra - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Like? I thought bloom looked like crap, but seriously what else is there to do? With PPU units coming and dual core drivers handling some of the GPU loads, I just hope they're not merely limited by direct x
  • StuckMojo - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    meh. to me, from the screenshots, it looks better without it.
    bloom alone really blows, the sand is all washed out.
    full hdr is nice, but you can tell the textures on the buildings weren't created with HDR in mind, they wash out quite a bit with HDR.
    I was reading about this in game developer, and IIRC, you have to modify your textures to really get a bang from HDR.
  • Frallan - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Im one of the guys who are on the brink of getting that secong 6800gt how does a SLi setup work w. this?
  • Sunrise089 - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    I'm pretty unimpressed with this technology if this is all it will ever look like, not to mention, is this some great step forward from Doom 3's lighting effects, or is Valve just a year behind?

    As far as the coverage goes, I know you can only test so many graphics cards, but why the x800 xt and x850 xt, they are so similar in market and performance. I would have substituted an x800 xl or x800 pro for the x800 xt.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    though doom 3's shadowing is better, valve's hdr lighting is far beyond what doom 3 does.

    the real advantages can't be shown from a screenshot. it's moving between dark and light areas that really show off the capabilities of the engine. Blooms are nice and add a subtle effect to lights and reflections. But the adaptive exposure has the potential to change the way games are designed and played on a fundamental level. Stealth games would actually change the most with shadows and blooms helping to actually conceal enemies and players naturally.

    Even shining a flashlight in someone's face could be a gameplay aspect. In a dark room, a flashlight would effectively blind the target if used correctly.
  • Avalon - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link

    Is it just me, or was the resolution not stated for those benches?
  • Bullhonkie - Friday, September 30, 2005 - link


    All of the tests were run at a resolution of 1600x1200 with no AA or AF.

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